The renewed interest in unauthorized immigration is a hot-button issue among many citizens, especially those in large and medium-sized cities.  News websites, political commentators, talk show hosts and maybe even your family have debated this topic.

You can understand this issue better by doing your research. It takes some digging to find the truth behind the numbers.

Discussions are not only about the number of illegal immigrants but their place in society. How many of them are on public assistance or involved in criminal activity? How many of them take restaurant, landscaping and retail jobs that were once held by American citizens?

Illegal immigration is of concern not only to people in the U.S. but to U.K. and European citizens as well. The number of illegal immigrants in the U.K and European countries tends to be much smaller than in the U.S., but is still a cause for concern.

Confirmation Bias and Opinions about Illegal Immigration

Finding truthful information on the internet can be hard. Liberals check left-leaning websites for their news. Conservatives go to Fox News or other right-leaning websites for their information. Each side will often complain that the other side offers fake news on their websites. Many people look for information that will confirm what they already believe (confirmation bias) instead of seeking the truth.  

An independent thinker wants to know the truth behind the numbers. Where do you find the correct statistics about illegal immigration and accurate, up-to-date information about their activities?

Here are a few places you can find the truth behind the numbers:

  • Look at statistics published by the federal government and your state or local government.
  • Check surveys by the Pew Research Center, Gallup Poll, Harris Interactive and survey results tabulated by the University of Chicago and other colleges.
  • Talk to your friends, family, and neighbors about what’s going on in your community. Get to know (or at least acknowledge) new people in your neighborhood, even people you would typically avoid due to a language barrier or other differences.

Who are the Illegal Immigrants?

According to an article published by the Pew Research Center in April 2017, the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. decreased from 11.3 million in 2009 to 11 million in 2015. This information shows that undocumented immigration dwindled even before Donald Trump became President and instituted tough new policies.

Most people assume Mexicans make up the majority of unauthorized immigrants. Illegal entries from Mexico accounted for the highest number of illegal immigrants for many years. However, estimates for 2016 show that people from Mexico only made up half of the undocumented immigrants. Immigrants from Asia and Central America are gaining in numbers, while illegal immigration from Mexico is declining.

Between 2007 and 2015, both lawful and illegal immigration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have increased. During the same time frame, immigration from Mexico decreased by 6%, according to U.S. Census Bureau Data. Gang activity, high homicide rates and overall violence in those countries are driving people to immigrate to the U.S., along with the promise of jobs and a better standard of living.

Immigrants come to America for a better life. This fact is as true for immigrants coming to the U.S. from Central America, Mexico, and Asia in the 21st century as it was for the European immigrants passing through Ellis Island at the beginning of the 20th Century.  

Adult illegal immigrants skew a decade younger and male in comparison with American born adults. Almost 60% of undocumented immigrants have lived in the U.S. for at least a decade. Surprisingly, about 30% of illegal immigrants own homes. Some even own businesses, but very few consider becoming legal citizens and live in fear of being deported.

The image of people running across the U.S. Mexican border, or arriving illegally by boat or plane, remains the most enduring example of how immigrants enter the U.S. illegally. Some people overstay their business or tourist visas and remain in the U.S. illegally. The government estimated that 416,500 people whose visas expired in 2015 were still in the U.S. in 2016.  

Illegal Immigrants and Employment

Undocumented immigrants hold more unskilled, low-paying jobs than their U.S. born counterparts do. Illegal immigrant workers still comprise 5.1 percent of the American workforce, even though the number of illegal immigrants has fallen by around one million since 2007.

In Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, most employed illegal immigrants work in restaurant, hotel or grounds keeping jobs and as nannies, maids or other staff at private homes. However, the majority of illegal immigrants are employed in low-level construction trade jobs or as laborers.

The top ten jobs held by illegal immigrants nationwide are:

  • Brickmasons
  • Drywall installers
  • Roofers
  • Agricultural workers
  • Construction trade helpers
  • Dishwashers
  • Laborers
  • Maids and housekeepers
  • Cement Masons
  • Packaging Machine Operators

Other common jobs held by undocumented immigrants include sewing machine operator, carpet and flooring installer, cook, chef, parking lot attendant, butcher, painter or box packer. As of 2012, there were 8,258,000 undocumented immigrants workers in the U.S. who had a steady occupation out of 154,135,000 total employed people in the United States – five percent of the total population.  

Pew Research reports that illegal immigrants are more likely to hold positions U.S. born citizens find undesirable, such as jobs in animal slaughterhouses or as farm laborers. However, the 2015 Pew survey states that unauthorized immigrants now hold 13% of office support and sales jobs.   

The idea that most immigrants who come to the U.S. are criminals or leeches is not based on fact, but on misinformation and prejudice.

Illegal Immigrants and Criminal Activity

Due to high-profile cases of illegal immigrants committing crimes, including the Kate Steinle case, many politicians, and citizens are calling tougher immigration laws. Dangerous street gangs, such as MS-13, are comprised of immigrants from El Salvador or other Central American countries. But just how prevalent are dangerous illegal immigrant criminals?

Studies completed over many years show that immigrants (legal and illegal) are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the U.S. One of the studies states that “Roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born”.

Friendly and Unfriendly States for Illegal Immigrants

Even though federal laws regarding immigration are vastly different under the Trump administration than under the Obama administration

There have been many arguments about illegal immigrants “mooching” off the system. In California, Illinois, and New York, undocumented immigrants have an easier time getting welfare and medical care than in many other states.

Washington State, California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, D.C., and Vermont allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers’ licenses.

Nineteen states, including New York, California, Illinois, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, and Michigan, offer in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

In Utah, Arizona, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, police can question any person they arrest about his or her immigration status if they suspect the person is in the country illegally. These states also prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition benefits.  

The Numbers – Legal Vs. Illegal Immigration

In 2014, California had the largest number of illegal immigrants at 2.3 million. Maine, Montana, West Virginia, North Dakota and Vermont had the lowest number of illegals, at under 5,000 per state.

You may think that most of the immigrants to the U.S. are illegal if you watch TV news channels every day. In reality, there are 43.3 million immigrants residing in the U.S. as of 2015. Only 26% of those immigrants are here illegally. The number of documented immigrants in the U.S. includes 20.7 million naturalized U.S. citizens, plus lawful permanent residents (green card holders), and legal residents in the country on temporary work or student visas.  

The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is around 11.1 million. The truth behind the numbers reveals that about 75% of immigrants to the U.S. are here legally. Depending on where you live, it may seem like there are many more illegal immigrants or hardly any.

Undocumented Immigration in Blue States vs. Red States

Immigration numbers show that 59% of undocumented immigrants live in California. Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. These highly populated states offer more businesses that will hire illegals, and New York, California, and Illinois are known for their liberal policies toward illegal immigrants. Benefits and medical care are readily available to undocumented individuals in these “blue,” or liberal, states.

Among the other states, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between conservative, liberal or mixed states when it comes to illegal immigration.

The states that attract the most illegals may do so because of one or more factors – the availability of easy to get, low-paying jobs, (especially ones American citizens aren’t anxious to do, like mowing lawns or picking fruit), generous benefit programs, including low to no cost college education, and lax state laws regarding enforcement of undocumented immigration law.

Top 10 Countries of Origin for Illegal Immigrants

According to 2012 statistics, Mexicans had the highest number of illegal immigrants in the United States at 6,720,000. The countries in positions 2-10 were:

  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • The Philippines
  • India
  • Korea
  • China
  • Ecuador
  • Vietnam

The number of illegal immigrants per year entering the U.S. varies. The number of apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico Border in March 2017 was 12,193, the lowest since 2000.

Overall, it seems the concern about illegal immigrants, especially from Mexico, is unfounded, as the number of undocumented aliens has decreased since the late 1990s.

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